How Do I Love Thee? (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)
There was no love in the Corinthian church. Those who could speak in tongues thought they were superior to those who could not. Yet, Paul here shows that love, not tongue-speaking, is the real measure of Christianity.
The Call for Love, vv. 1-3
Christians need to love. In these three verses, Paul shows that Christian works without love are meaningless. Tongue-speaking without love is meaningless (v 1). One might could speak in the language of men and angels—This one would have the ability to speak in any known or unknown language. If one can speak in these languages but does not have love, he is as a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. These instruments were used in pagan worship. Paul declares that if one can speak in tongues but doesn’t have love, the sound he makes is just like the sound of pagan worship-meaningless.
Other supernatural gifts without love are meaningless (v 1). He might could have the gift of prophecy so that he could understand all mysteries and knowledge. He might have all faith so that he could move mountains. Jesus told the apostles that if they had faith they could move mountains (Matt 17:20). Judas had supernatural power (Matt 10:8), yet he did not have love. If Paul performed great powers without love, he would have nothing.
Great Christian deeds without love are meaningless (v. 3). He could bestow all his goods to feed the poor. He could allow himself to be martyred for the faith. Yet, if he did not have love, these deeds would profit him nothing.
Christians must have love. Love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:8-10). The commands God has given us dealing with our fellow men can be summed up with “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love is really the essence of Christianity. If we do not have love, we can’t be Christians. Above everything Christians are to put on love (Col. 3:13). Are you fulfilling the law? Are you loving?
The Conduct of Love, vv. 4-7
Many have the idea that love is some warm, fuzzy feeling. Individuals file for divorce simply because “I don’t love him anymore.” Love is more than emotion-it is action. We need to show love in deed and in truth (1 Jn. 3:18). Paul is going to show us how to love in deed and in truth.
Love suffers long. The term “long-suffering” originally comes from two terms: “long” and “anger.” The idea is that our anger has a long fuse.
Love is kind—Love is gentle in behavior, willing to help.
Love does not envy—Envy refers to being filled with jealousy.
Love does not parade itself—In other words, love does not play the braggart.
Love is not puffed up—The idea here is being inflated, thinking we are worth more than we really are.
Love does not behave rudely—This refers to behaving in a disgraceful, indecent manner, embarrassing those we love.
Love does not seek it own—Love doesn’t watch out for its own interest; it watches out for the interest of others.
Love is not provoked. “Provoke” means to urge on or stimulate; this refers to one who is easily angered.
Love thinks no evil. This phrase is literally “takes no account of evil.” The wording pictures one keeping a ledger or notebook of all wrongs committed against him. Love does not keep account of wrong. Do you keep account of wrong?
Love does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth. Love does not rejoice when individuals do wrong, love rejoices when people do right. Do you rejoice in iniquity or in the truth?
Love bears all things. “Bear” comes from the word for roof, covering. The idea is that love covers the wrongs of others. Although love doesn’t cover up wrongs, love doesn’t go around telling everyone about the wrongs committed against him. Really, this means that love doesn’t break confidentiality.
Love believes all things—Love isn’t gullible, but it does believe in people.
Love hopes all things—Love looks on the bright side; it does not despair.
Love endures all things; Love perseveres—Love never quits.
Love is a verb. Because God loved the world, he gave his Son (Jn. 3:16). We show our love to God by keeping his commands (Jn. 14:15). When we love, we need to show love through the lives we live.
The Continuation of Love, vv. 8-13
Paul is making the point here that love is far superior to the spiritual gifts exercised in the early church.
Love never fails (v. 8). Love never quits; love is always around. The spiritual gifts would (and have) ceased. These gifts weren’t meant to last. They served their purpose, and now they’re gone.
The perfect is coming (vv. 9-10). We only prophesy and know in part—we don’t have complete knowledge of the spiritual world. When the perfect comes, the imperfect will be done away. The perfect here actually refers to Jesus—Paul says we shall see face to face (v. 12). When Jesus is revealed, our imperfect knowledge of the spiritual world will vanish. But, our love will not vanish when Jesus returns; we will love God and one another in heaven.
Are you practicing a superior quality? Are you loving?
Unless we love one another, our spiritual lives are empty.
Unless we love Jesus, we have no spiritual life. Those who love him keep his commands (Jn. 14:15). Do you love Jesus? Are you keeping his commands?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Owingsville church of Christ in Owingsville, Kentucky.